The Raving Theist

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Save Julia Sweeney (Updated)

December 4, 2005 | 37 Comments

Comedienne Julia Sweeney reports on her blog that she’s leaving Desperate Housewives to spend next year preaching atheism through her “Letting Go of God” book, movie and stage franchise:

The time seems right. Things have changed so much, even since I opened the show a year and a half ago. For example, when I opened my show here in Los Angeles, and I got to the part where I talk about Intelligent Design, I felt that about 30% of the audience knew what I was talking about. But now, EVERYONE knows what I’m talking about. Absolutely everyone. It seems like the topic of religion is exploding right now, all over the place. And I really, really, really want to be doing my show.

So far, so good. But before she gets started, she’s going on a cruise and doing a little reading. Number 2 on her list is “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.” Sweeney writes:

It’s terrible and astonishing that I have not read any Ayn Rand. I think I was put off by her maniacal (it seems to me — in my ignorance) free market solutions to all problems. But I am ready to give her a try and so many people have come to my show and mentioned her — it’s really a sin that I haven’t read her yet.

No it’s not a sin because there’s no such thing as sin, but DON’T DO IT — they’re the BAD ATHEISTS!!! Of course lots of Randites flock to your show and babble about her — only cult-minded atheists are motivated enough to go to live atheistic performances (the rest of us just watch them on cable or DVD). But Rand thought selfishness was a virtue, glamorized rape, thought a rational woman would never want to be president, hated gays and loved abortion. Bad crowd, Julia, bad crowd — read this book instead.

If you’ve got a better idea, go tell her — she completed the move to Blogspot and her blog’s got a comment section now.

UPDATE: I, Egoist responds (angrily).

Comments

37 Responses to “Save Julia Sweeney (Updated)”

  1. Kafkaesquí
    December 4th, 2005 @ 11:33 pm

    Actually, with a comic of Julia’s talent (and as long as she doesn’t succumb to the dark side), it’s possible to get a lot of funny material out of Ayn Rand. A LOT.

  2. Mort Coyle
    December 5th, 2005 @ 12:34 am

    Aha! So there *are* atheistic cults! ;^)

  3. Aequitas
    December 5th, 2005 @ 1:12 am

    Selfishness IS a virtue. Have you even read the book? I don’t know about her thoughts on rape or gays (though I have heard that she wasn’t particularly anti-war), but most of Ayn Ran’d philosophy is very good stuff if you look at it without your Politically Correct glasses.

  4. Kafkaesquí
    December 5th, 2005 @ 1:31 am

    Selfishness IS a virtue.

    See, didn’t I tell ‘ya?

  5. MBains
    December 5th, 2005 @ 5:02 am

    Grow up Mort. {-; And read The Fountainhead while you’re at it. (oh yah, don’t forget that, unlike bibles, qurans and vedas [oh my!], it’s acknowledged by its author and meta-fans as FICTION.) Randian Objectivism is cultish and it is far from objective some of the time. Read it and decide for yourself when that is.

    The philosophy takes the fact that you need to take care of yourself before you can do any good for others and runs with it. Many of its so-called adherents, being mere homo sapiens, go ahead and ignore the whole “others” aspect just because they’re lazy and frightened ideologues.

    Objectivism says to put on the oxygen mask when it drops in front of before putting the child’s on their face. It does not suggest that you have a virtuous individualistic obligation to ignore the child’s situation altogether if they’ve already passed out, thus becoming a hindrance to your own preservation.

    The BIG PROBLEM with Objectivism is that it presumes H Sapiens can individually all be brilliant intellectually, regardless of their upbringing and physical quirks and defects. My light association with the ARI suggest that these folk are a bit xenophobically “high-strung”. Just like your average religious nutter.

    Regardless of what you do with it, reading Ayn Rand’s philosophy is a good way to increase you awareness of your own needs and capabilities as a human.

  6. inkadu
    December 5th, 2005 @ 7:08 am

    Yeah, what is it about atheism that attracts moonbat libertarians? It’s not a license for selfishness.

  7. Will E.
    December 5th, 2005 @ 12:00 pm

    I too have a prejudice against Rand, thanks to my sister who went through all Rand’s books years ago, and then dismissed them as adolescent (although she is definitely a skeptical atheist now). Add to that Michael Shermer’s devastating chapter on Rand herself as well as her followers in “Why People Believe Weird Things,” and you’ve got one guy here with no interest in, or more accurately termed an aversion to, Ayn Rand and objectivism.

    That said, one of my own personal atheist heroes, H.P. Lovecraft, was a notorious racist, xenophobe, etc. and that has never stopped me from admiring his fictional and philosophical output. Anyway, personal contradictions and prejudices aside, kudos to Julia Sweeney.

  8. Francois Tremblay
    December 5th, 2005 @ 12:28 pm

    What is it about Ayn Rand you don’t like ? Her atheism, her rationality, her outrageous demand that you value things for yourself instead of for other people, or what ? How about you read a bit of philosophy before dismissing an ideology about which you obviously know nothing about ?

    And no, Objectivism is not “Randianism”. The best works I’ve read on Objectivist thought were not written by Rand. I consider “Logical Structure of Objectivism” the seminal work on morality and it was not written by Rand. So get off the cult trip, most Objectivists are NOT members the Ayn Rand Institute, you idiots.

  9. Francois Tremblay
    December 5th, 2005 @ 12:31 pm

    What is it about Ayn Rand you don’t like ? Her atheism, her rationality, her outrageous demand that you value things for yourself instead of for other people, or what ? How about you read a bit of philosophy before dismissing an ideology about which you obviously know nothing about ?

    And no, Objectivism is not “Randianism”. The best works I’ve read on Objectivist thought were not written by Rand. I consider “Logical Structure of Objectivism” the seminal work on morality and it was not written by Rand. So get off the cult trip, most Objectivists are NOT members the Ayn Rand Institute.

  10. SWK6
    December 5th, 2005 @ 2:34 pm

    Ayn Rand “hated gays” and “loved abortion”? Hmm, in all of the works I’ve read of hers, those are ideals I never encountered. Funny also how that since I admire her philosophy, I am somehow a cultist? Here I thought I was just an advocate of individualism and the free market. Perhaps it’s the evil free market that you really hate.

  11. hermesten
    December 6th, 2005 @ 11:39 am

    I’m not a Rand fan either. For one thing, I think her philosophy was starkly at odds with what she supported politically. However, having read quite a bit of her writing in my younger days, I never encountered this purported hatred for gays and love of abortion, either.

    Christopher Hitchens is an alcohol besotted hypocrite. However, his being an asshole doesn’t negate the truths he has often spoken. In any case, just as soon as someone finds a human being without flaws, let me know.

  12. i, Egoist
    December 6th, 2005 @ 1:17 pm

    With “Objectivists” Like These, Who Needs Raving Atheists?

    The Raving Atheist had his latest smear of Ayn Rand yesterday — which consisted of depicting her, without any pretense at explanation, as a plague that must avoided by anyone who cares for self-preservation.

    Here, is his advice to Julia Sweeny, a c…

  13. Dada Saves
    December 6th, 2005 @ 2:25 pm

    RA, isn’t it past time you plunked one of the main Objectivist web sites on your ‘Hate Site’ list? I seem to remember one calling for a (literal) war on Islamic culture.

  14. kmisho
    December 6th, 2005 @ 3:01 pm

    Part of my distate for Rand comes from experience with her followers. This one guy I lived with in college was always yelling and screaming about objective etchics. Meanwhile, I later found out, he stole from me on a regular basis whenever I went home from college.

    But that is not the limit of my experience with Rand. From reading her non-fiction, I conclude that her philosophy is, basically, ‘Fuck everyone else. *I* am the genius.’

    On the historical side, I see her militant capitalism as little more than reactionary to the Soviet brand of communism she grew up under.

    On the philosophical side, her attempt to move from objective epistemology to objective ethics holds no water. It is a leap of faith in the purest sense. She constructs no real logical flow from one to the other. She makes a number of assumptions (such as about the specialness of sentient beings) then leaps across the gap to objective ethics.

  15. AK
    December 6th, 2005 @ 3:44 pm

    kmisho,

    To claim that you cannot get to objective ethics is to deny identity and causality. Just because you dont see the connection between reality and morality doesnt mean objectivism takes a leap of faith. Youre own morality is chained to the attributes of your own existence, just like you need food to survive.

  16. "Q" the Enchanter
    December 6th, 2005 @ 5:59 pm

    Ayn Rand’s laughably incompetent description of Kant’s critical philosophy (and of the nature of its influence in contemporary philosophy) reminds me of something Bertrand Russell observed: “A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”

    That’s not to say Rand’s thought (such as it is) is completely without merit. Just mostly.

  17. "Q" the Enchanter
    December 6th, 2005 @ 5:59 pm

    Ayn Rand’s laughably incompetent description of Kant’s critical philosophy (and of the nature of its influence in contemporary philosophy) reminds me of something Bertrand Russell observed: “A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”

    That’s not to say Rand’s thought (such as it is) is completely without merit. Just mostly.

  18. "Q" the Enchanter
    December 6th, 2005 @ 5:59 pm

    Ayn Rand’s laughably incompetent description of Kant’s critical philosophy (and of the nature of its influence in contemporary philosophy) reminds me of something Bertrand Russell observed: “A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”

    That’s not to say Rand’s thought (such as it is) is completely without merit. Just mostly.

  19. "Q" the Enchanter
    December 6th, 2005 @ 5:59 pm

    Ayn Rand’s laughably incompetent description of Kant’s critical philosophy (and of the nature of its influence in contemporary philosophy) reminds me of something Bertrand Russell observed: “A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”

    That’s not to say Rand’s thought (such as it is) is completely without merit. Just mostly.

  20. Mr Nous
    December 6th, 2005 @ 9:18 pm

    In almost any crowd, merely mentioning the name of Ayn Rand brings out the most extreme responses. Usually without much substance from the critics’ ( and often from the supporters’) part. Usually the criticism is unspecific. Big, fat strawmen abound.

    Yes, Rand advocated egoism and used the word selfish unashamedly. Most ancient greek moral philosophers I’ve read or read about also advocated self-interested morality, most prominently Aristotle and Epicurus. The fact that egoism evokes such a hostile reaction now tells something about the influence of Christianity on West.

    Glamorized rape refers, I believe, to Rands tendency to write rough sex scenes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    Hated gays? She said she found homosexuality disgusting, but that doesn’t equal hating gays.

    Loved abortion? I don’t think defending the right to abortion means loving the act itself.

    Thought a rational woman would never want to be a president? Yes, she did. That’s certainly sounds like a strange opinion, but I can’t see why it’s such a big deal.

    Considering the track record of 20th century philosophers and intellectuals, which in many cases includes support for nazism, communism or terrorism, not to mention less-than-well led personal lives, it’s interesting that their ideas can still be discussed accurately and their names mentioned without much controversy. Not so with Rand, who advocated freedom and lived a rather splendid life.

    To make my own position clear, I’m an admirer of Rand. I recommend everyone interested in Rand decide the validity of her ideas on their own, judging by what she wrote, not commentary.

  21. Mort Coyle
    December 6th, 2005 @ 9:47 pm

    MBains, relax, that was a tongue-in-cheek reference to a discussion a few weeks ago about cults. Perhaps I was too oblique. Have read The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, etc. Actually, my favorite book by her was Anthem.

  22. Mister Swill
    December 7th, 2005 @ 12:30 am

    Mr Norus: “Usually the criticism is unspecific. Big, fat strawmen abound.”

    A few specific criticisms of Ayn Rand’s arguments:

    1. Rand argues in favor of acting in one’s own self-interest and decries altruism. She never allows for the idea that spending energy to help others might actually be in one’s self-interest.

    2. Rand does allow that people can cooperate to achieve mutually beneficial ends. Rand doesn’t seem to understand that there are no ends are going to be 100% mutually beneficial and that any cooperation must involve some level of compromise.

    3. In arguing for self-interest as moral compass, Rand states that acquiring wealth does no harm to others. On planet Earth, where resources are finite, that’s only true up to a point. After a while, your control of a resource denies other people access to that resource.

    4. Rand assumes that the poor are poor because they are lazy or incompetent. That is a dubious assumption. In a world of finite resources, we are all in competition. Many people who don’t have what they set out to get are people who simply didn’t win the game. Let’s also not forget that the playing field isn’t level and not everyone plays fair.

    5. Rand rails against collectivism, but rallies in favor of laissez-faire capitalism. Perhaps I should forgive her this one, since she died in the very early Reagan years, but those of us who lived through the 80s and 90s know that less regulation of corporations results in larger, more powerful, more corrupt, more dangerous collectives that create more monotonous products.

    6. A theme that Rand touches on again and again in The Fountainhead (as if there are any themes in that book that aren’t touched on again and again) is that there are good aesthetics and bad aesthetics, that everyone in their heart really knows the difference, and that good Objectivist types seek out the good while everyone else revels in the bad. Her own personal experience arguing about music and art with people she presumably respected should have taught her that aesthetics are, at their core, subjective. Should I give her the benefit of the doubt and chalk this one up to allegory? Show me evidence that I should and I will.

    Alright, I’ll leave it at that. This one got LONG. So what else is new?

  23. Bee
    December 7th, 2005 @ 3:39 am

    I do not deny that you can get from logical epistemology to objective ethics. I simply contend that Rand failed.

  24. Bee
    December 7th, 2005 @ 3:46 am

    To Mr Nous,

    Ayn Rand had little substance too. It is a touch ridiculous to attack her attackers for lack of substance. She was on to some things and WAY OFF on other things.

    All in all I don’t think she is of much relevance in modern times. I would say the same of Darwin, but I would give Darwin much higher marks for his empiricism, whereas Rand was not much more than an armchair philosopher.

  25. Mr Nous
    December 7th, 2005 @ 10:54 am

    Very well, Mister Swill. I appreciate you being specific, even though I think you are attributing to Rand positions she never held. I answer your points one by one. (I don’t claim to be speaking for her, however. I only represent myself and recommend people assess Rand on their own, based on what she wrote.)

    1. Rand does allow benevolence and helping others. What she is against is sacrificing a greater value to a lesser one. Giving all you can to help a loved one is not truly a sacrifice at all;
    wasting the same kind of energy for the sake of a stranger who you don’t value at all, is.

    2. Ends don’t have to be 100% mutually beneficial (whatever that means). If each party is better off as the result of cooperation, that is sufficient.

    3. I don’t see how people who have control of some resources are harming me. What I see are people specializing in harnessing some specific resource and trading it to others for mutual benefit. The case of resources running out is yet to happen (in any field) and doesn’t seem likely to happen in any dangerous sense.

    4. I have never read such a claim about the poor from her. I think she did believe that in capitalism, the industrious and the competent are likely to prosper.

    5. Regulating corporations might lead to smaller corporations. I don’t see this as a good thing, as they are likely to be less capable of doing what corporations do – creating wealth. Besides, if targeted by regulators, they need to gain power in political, instead of economic realm, just to survive. I don’t see this as a good thing, either.

    I can’t really compare the products of the eighties and nineties to earlier eras. I do know that there is an astonishing variety of great products available now, and I also know the eighties were a period of great economic growth and national vigor in the US.

    6. Rand did believe that there is good and bad art, and also in difference between art and that which is not art. I have no intention or ability to write out her whole theory of art here. I refer you to The Romantic Manifesto.

  26. hermesten
    December 7th, 2005 @ 11:14 am

    “Rand argues in favor of acting in one’s own self-interest and decries altruism. ”

    I’d say this isn’t really the case. I’d say that she argued for something more like the impossibility of “altruism.” She contended that what is labeled altruistic is really just disguised self-interest. For instance, was Mother Theresa altruistic, or did she just get off on the attention and saintly perception? The answer to such a question usually cannot be known.

    “…but those of us who lived through the 80s and 90s know that less regulation of corporations results in larger, more powerful, more corrupt, more dangerous collectives that create more monotonous products.”

    I tend to be inclined more towards the Belloc interpretation of capitalism, and though I agree 100% that corporations are more powerful, more corrupt, and more dangerous than ever, I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to suggest this is due to “less” regulation. What is billed as “deregulation” is often in fact, just reregulation that shifts risk away from big corporations to the consumer, and grants the big corporations special economic benefits. In the context of “laissez-faire,” I think government intervention is more the issue than “regulation” per se. You could have no “regulation” yet have government policies that favor corporations, and this would not be laissez-faire capitalism.

    Now, in balance, I must say that Mr. Nous’s concept of objectivism that confuses corporate power with laissez-faire capitalism is a scary proposition. Generally speaking, power is the enemy of liberty. Our founders knew this, and had great fear of the money power. Power corrupts; and power and free-exchange are mutually exclusive propositions.

    The corporate interests have been very successful at conflating laissesz-faire capitalism with special privledges and power for them, in the minds of many conservatives and libertarians. These people, for example, think Wal-Mart is some kind of free-market success story, and that some kind of “free market” exists in the United States. As much as I fear the State, the real problem in the US today is not the power of the State, it’s corporate power. When our liberty is finally gone, it will be in the hands of the corporate powers, not the State.

  27. Mr Nous
    December 7th, 2005 @ 12:36 pm

    Just to make myself clear on the issue of corporate power: I don’t dispute that corporations are often hostile or dangerous to liberty. When government power is not properly limited, corporations often use it to gain advantage over those less willing or able to buy influence.

    I don’t, however, equate political power (force), with economic power. I don’t see wealth as something dangerous in itself. I certainly don’t think corporations should be regulated in order to keep them from becoming too successful, any more than they should be given special privileges.

  28. hermesten
    December 7th, 2005 @ 3:50 pm

    “I certainly don’t think corporations should be regulated in order to keep them from becoming too successful, any more than they should be given special privileges.”

    The problem I see is that the right –conservatives and libertarians too– seem to have bought in to the notion that the only side of this equation that matters is the regulatory side. What I see in the business world –and I work closely with the process of “deregulation”– is that large corporations seek and get special privileges, and the people advocating special treat are almost 100% true blue “conservative” republicans and Bush supporters. Every one of these people spout free market nostrums, and are either unaware, or simply, do not care, that what they are building is anything but a free market.

    In fact, many people on the left, as well as government regulators, also seem to be disciples of the new American religion: crony capitalism. Some of the regulators are just as enthusiastic about a system of privilege for corporate power as the corporations themselves.

    As for the acquisition of power: economic power is political power. In fact, I think the case can be made that economic power is the only kind of political power. If I have no money –no wealth– I have no pollitical power. You’re kidding yourself if you actually believe that someone with no wealth has the same political power as someone worth $100 million.

    The equation for this country has always been money=power.
    This is so obvious I can’t believe there is a sane person on the planet who can seriously maintain otherwise. It affects everything we do and everything that happens, and it would be true even if the law was equally applied to everyone. And it isn’t. It isn’t even close.

  29. Mr Nous
    December 7th, 2005 @ 4:42 pm

    I don’t disagree with your point about corporations getting special treats.

    Sure, money can be used to buy political power (though they are most definitely not the same thing). All the more reason to limit political power so that even bought bureaucrats have little ability to abuse their power. As long as they have the power to make or break industries, businesses will have to try to influence them. Even if the corporations have no sinister motives, gaining political power is essential to their own self-protection.

  30. hermesten
    December 7th, 2005 @ 6:14 pm

    “All the more reason to limit political power so that even bought bureaucrats have little ability to abuse their power.”

    Theory is all well and good, but it is inconceivable that there will ever be a United States government without the power to raise an army, make war, take property, kill people, and put them in jail. As long as such power exists, sufficient wealth will put such power at the service of the wealthy, and deny it to everyone else.

  31. Mr Nous
    December 7th, 2005 @ 6:58 pm

    I’m not suggesting a properly limited government would end all corruption; I claim it would reduce it.

    The government’s ability to take property, kill people and put them in jail is already severely curtailed by laws, independent judiciary and other things. Would you, for example, say that it’s as easy for a wealthy man to “gain a favor” in order to censor some particular information in the US as it is in Iran? If not, why? Could it be the fact that the US government is limited by the First Amendment?

    You rather cynical comment in the end seems to indicate that only by doing away with either power or wealthy individuals would this problem be solved. Even if it were possible, it certainly wouldn’t be desirable.

  32. Sean
    December 8th, 2005 @ 8:28 pm

    I would like to know is not selfish. I skipped over the entries so far, I’ll go back and read them, but, not one person on the planet is selfless.

  33. hermesten
    December 9th, 2005 @ 10:19 am

    I am indeed cynical. However, I don’t believe in killing people, so what I support are things that limit the accumulation of power. I don’t think the problem can be “solved” –merely deferred.

    I think each State has what might be called “political entropy.” Tremendous energy must be expended to improve and maintain the system. At some point, as the result of a variety of factors, the amount of “energy” required to overcome the inertia for decay becomes so great that the system becomes unsustainable, and begins an irreversible decay. Once this point is reached, all energy directed to “repair” the system can only temporarily delay the process of decay.

    I also think America has already reached the point of irreversible decay. Everything we can do now is just a holding action. It may take 50 years, 100 years, even 200 years, to reach bottom, but hit the bottom we will. The system is just too compromised and too corrupt to be repaired. In a country where 61% of the population supports “torture,” the notion of liberty and the rule of law is already gone. The froms will remain for awhile longer, but the substance has evaporated. It’s all downhill from here.

  34. Joe
    December 9th, 2005 @ 12:39 pm

    Ayn Rand is not worth discussing unless your are a first or second year college student. Anyone beyond that should feel slight embarrassed to even refer to what she believed as philosophy….

  35. Jab
    December 9th, 2005 @ 5:14 pm

    I may have missed it but, I don’t think anyone has mentioned the the credit (I think) she deserves as a novelist. I first read The Fountainhead and appreciated the character of Roark. And I appreciated the character of John Galt and Dagney. Setting aside all the philosophical implications, good or bad, these characters struck a chord with me for their determination to do what they loved to do and didn’t give a shit if no one else liked it. They did what they loved for selfish reasons and that, especially when it comes to any art form of any kind is what makes great art. And, subsequently, if others do like it, they believed that they should not have to give their creations away for free or allow someone else to steal from them and claim credit. I learned perserverance from her novels. Not only from the characters, but from the fact that the fucking books were HUGE!

    In reading her novels, I didn’t give a shit about Objectivist philosophy. I was astounded that she could write a novel as gigantic as Atlas Shrugged, and manage to keep my attention throughout the entire novel. Setting all the philosophical shit aside, the woman deserves a lot of credit for weaving an amazing work of fiction.

    Methinks.

  36. Mary
    December 9th, 2005 @ 6:30 pm

    Ayn Rand wrote down the rules for Hollywood on what they should be doing. Among other things, she warned them against hiring Communists, because they would slip in such things as being against the profit motive.

    However, you can read the entire list and see not a shred of evidence that she believed they shouldn’t follow her rules when it interfered with their profit.

  37. Trevor Blake
    December 13th, 2005 @ 10:45 pm

    The very reason I read Ayn Rand was because people said not to. People who were fine with questioning god, government and everything else under the sun were saying don’t even _read_ Rand, as if the pages of her books contained magic spells that could overcome my mind by mere exposure. Now I’ve read Rand (quite a bit by and about her) and I can say sometimes she was right and sometimes she was wrong. Fancy that. And shame shame shame on those who say some ideas are too dangerous to even consider, be they the Pope or the Raving Atheist.

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